Friday Takeaway: Caroline Pam

Daily Hampshire Gazette, October 13, 2017, by Caroline Pam

Are you guys winding down now?” I’m asked every day this time of year.
“Hell, no!” I want to shout back. Instead, I smile and shake my head. The pressure is on: Frost is imminent, and we’ve got acres of storage crops still to harvest so that our farm (and crew) can stay in business all winter.

We are catching our breath a bit, though. We’ve been in flat-out survival mode during the last six weeks of nonstop harvest, festivals and hot-sauce-making, and now we’re finally able to start planning for next season, instead of just struggling to get through the day.

But before we get to next year, we’ve got some catching up to do. My son turned eight last month, and we owe him a trip to Legoland. Our neglected pantry is full of stale crackers and grain moths so our backyard chickens are getting a fabulous feast. The kids have outgrown the clothes and books in their rooms so we’re loading everything up for Goodwill. Friends are coming over to share the saag paneer and curry that we’re making with our broccoli rabe and cauliflower. Ohhh yeah… this is what a weekend feels like!

As the air turns crisp, our mood gets lighter. But the vegetables are getting heavier. We’re hauling in five types of cabbage and dozens of varieties of radishes, turnips, carrots and beets. We’re walking miles of row footage to catch the broccoli the moment the crowns are fully beaded; just as the cauliflower peeks out of its wrapper. At the lunch table, we’re placing bets on when frost will kill the peppers. (A blessing and a curse.)

So far this year has been one of our best — and one of our hardest. We’re harvesting more vegetables, shipping more sriracha and managing more complexity than ever. We spent 10 out of 30 days in September in a shared commercial kitchen in Greenfield grinding peppers, and we could have used more. We joke that if we weren’t feeling maxed out, it would be a clue that we’re in trouble.

At the same time, our employees are getting paid more and getting more time off. Our biggest goal in recent years has been improving quality of life for everyone on our farm. Even though it’s still a tough job, we’ve got 10 of our best people returning next year. So, I guess that’s proof we’re making progress.

But there’s so much we want to do better! We’re determined to find a way to make sriracha and salsa in our own kitchen, closer to the farm. That means we’re going to need to build one. With so many experienced farmers on our team, we’re creating new leadership roles with more responsibility so that our staff can grow with us while we tackle new challenges.

Yes, we’re tired, but we feel very lucky to be hatching plans like these. And I’m keenly aware of the challenges farmers are facing with hurricane flooding in Texas and Puerto Rico and wildfires in Napa and Sonoma. The drought of recent weeks decreased our fall carrot yields but was nowhere near as severe as last year.  Who knows what next year will bring? The only thing we can plan on is that it will be different.

Caroline Pam owns and operates Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland with her husband, Tim Wilcox. The farm grows organic vegetables, makes award-winning sriracha and salsa and hosts an annual hot pepper festival, Chilifest, in September.